Three pairs of boots, a set of binoculars, and a couple pairs of brush pants and we were off on our 6-hour journey to the whitetail promise land. Three of us packed in a pick-up headed for the rural public lands of south-central Iowa with hopes of finding some white gold scattered across the landscape. Our hopes were high knowing the potential this area holds, and within the first 3 hours of our shed hunt we had a decent pile of bone started.
Some may call you crazy for spending money on a trip just to find shed antlers, but this trip was a whole lot more than just finding a few sheds. We were beginning our scouting process for future whitetail hunts in the great state of Iowa. With a non-resident Iowa tag being awarded every 3-4 years on average, shed season was the perfect time to start scouting for the 2017 deer season.
Pre-Plan Your Scouting Missions
This is perhaps the most important step to making sure you spend your time scouting and shed hunting quality areas while guarding against getting lost on unfamiliar ground. I’ll admit, we should have come down to Iowa a little bit more prepared in terms of understanding the public lands we were planning on walking. We had a few maps printed off with key areas and boundaries marked, but we elected to rely on technology for some of the other properties…bad idea. Let’s just say when you get down into some of these rolling hill rural areas, cell signal is slim to none.
Be sure to have printed off maps or cached Google Earth imagery on your phone or GPS before you head into zero cell signal territory. Also, make sure at least one person in your group has an aerial image to follow and lead the group.
Once You’re Out There
When the time finally comes to put boots on the ground, make sure everybody is on the same page. Shed hunting is a little different than scouting, but much of the same techniques overlap. In short, shed hunting is much more of a directional combing of the landscape, similar to a bird hunt where the hunters line up and walk in a nearly straight line as they work a property. Scouting on the other hand is typically done by heading or wandering around “good” looking areas and determining whether it’s a spot you should be hunting. For technologically advanced hunters, this is usually done ahead of time with the aid of Google Earth or other mapping programs.
Also, during shed hunts you’re likely not worried about bumping deer or disturbing bedding areas like you may be during scouting missions, especially those that take place in late-summer or fall. This is a major reason why shed hunting is the best time to scout for future hunts. You’ll cover more ground and hit areas you’d likely skip over during a pure scouting mission.
No Better Time of Year
Early spring is an ideal time to scout because sign is fresh, new growth has yet to sprout, the weather is nice, and antlers are on the ground. Whether you’re following a ridgetop trail or checking out a massive rub, spring leaves plenty of clues to help you tag a buck during the fall. Not only is the deer sign quite evident, but finding a good shed antler can also give you some great insight such as the potential of the deer in the area, proof of a specific buck’s residence, and where he may be bedding, traveling, and feeding. All helpful pieces when trying to find potential stand sites.
The Perfect Off-Season Hunt
Lastly, hitting the road with a couple of good buddies to shed hunt new lands is an awesome adventure in and of itself. For many hunters (myself included), hunting season provides unparalleled comradery amongst a group of friends and an out-of-state shed hunt is the perfect activity to keep that interaction strong during the off-season, while still preparing for future hunts.
With a cold beer in one hand and an antler in the other, we shared endless hunting stories around a charcoal grill packed with venison burgers. We’d have to wait two more years to hunt Iowa, but for now we were satisfied with the antlers and hotspots found. In total, we hiked roughly 15 miles each day and were rewarded with 9 sheds and endless stand locations. So long Iowa, we’ll be back again.